Meet the West’s Outdoor Voters

What do weekend warriors and empty-nesters have in common? They vote the outdoors.

What do millennial parents and empty-nesters have in common? Where do casual weekend hikers and committed hunters and anglers see eye to eye? What connects people who get their information from social media with those who prefer to watch cable news?

They all vote the outdoors.

Last month we shared the results of our Winning the West 2018 poll which showed that voters in Mountain West swing states like Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico continue to support a balanced approach to managing conservation, recreation, and responsible energy development on our public lands. More importantly, they are motivated to vote on the issue and look for candidates who share their values. These voters, we believe, make up an “Outdoor Voting Bloc” with a growing influence on the outcome of close elections in Western states.

Now, we’d like to dive into the results a little deeper and take a look at just who makes up this outdoor voting bloc and where they can be found.

While our poll revealed the importance of public lands is strong across all voters surveyed, seven groups of persuadable voters — millennial parents, empty nesters, dedicated anglers and hunters, casual outdoor recreation enthusiasts, cable news watchers, social media users, and ticket splitters — showed especially strong outdoor voting tendencies. The voters in these groups are also typically less partisan and less ideological than traditional party-preference breakdowns. They are exactly the people who candidates looking to win elections in Mountain West states will want to reach and connect with.

Let’s get to know them.

Millennial Parents are voters ranging in age from 22 to 36, with kids. They make up about 6 percent of our overall voter sample but are a group that continues to grow. Every year, a million new sets of parents are added to this group. They are especially focused on the future when it comes to public lands.

Empty Nesters are baby boomers with no kids left at home. Their numbers are substantial, as they make up half of our voter sample. They are typically nearing retirement or already retired, and outdoor recreation is an important part of what draws them to the Mountain West.

Hunters and Anglers are the most conservative of the seven groups we identified. In fact, they narrowly supported President Trump in the 2016 election. For them, hunting and fishing is not a hobby, it’s a way of life. They care deeply about conserving wildlife populations and maintaining access to public lands.

Casual Outdoor Enthusiasts make up two-thirds of the Western electorate. They regularly participate in the type of outdoor activities that anyone can do, like nature walks, hiking, camping, picnicking and bird watching. But don’t let these weekend warriors fool you — their passion for the outdoors is full-time.

Cable News Watchers are defined as voters who say they get their news primarily from major cable news outlets. They are a little older and slightly more conservative than the Western electorate generally. Candidates looking to advertise and reach these voters know exactly where to find them.

Social Media Users are made up of any voter who uses social media platforms on a regular basis, the most common being Facebook. This group makes up around three-quarters of the Western electorate. They are learning about and engaging with outdoor issues in new ways online.

Ticket Splitters are voters who regularly vote for candidates of different parties on the same ballot. Between a quarter to a third of Western voters are ticket splits. While they often switch between voting “blue” and “red,” they consistently vote the outdoors. Candidates in the West cannot ignore the ticket splitters. If you win the ticket splitting vote, chances are good that you’ll win the election.

The seven groups of outdoor voters our Winning the West 2018 poll identified are different in many ways. Some could be considered strange bedfellows. But they are united across the board in their strong support for public lands and their motivation to seek and support candidates who share their views.

The outdoor voter groups identified in the poll expect their candidates to take a balanced approach to managing conservation, recreation and responsible energy development. They believe public lands and outdoor recreation are critical to the economy. Around 80 percent say public lands and the outdoor lifestyle are important in attracting good jobs and innovative companies to the West. Similar percentages agree that outdoor recreation is important to their state’s economic futures.

For outdoor voters, public lands are not just an issue they care about. It’s an issue that plays an outsized role in driving them to the polls and influencing the candidates they choose. Between 60 and 75 percent said they tend to vote for candidates who align the closest to their point of view on public lands. A range between 69 and 76 percent reported they are motivated to vote when public lands are threatened.

Outdoor voters reject candidates who take extreme positions on public lands. Majorities say they would be unlikely to vote for a Democrat who says energy resources on public lands should never be developed. At the same time, majorities also say they would be unlikely to vote for a Republican who says there are too many public lands.

A proof point for the outdoor voters’ rejection of extreme positions comes in their view of the Trump administration’s recent decision to significantly reduce the size of popular national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Strong majorities in every outdoor voting group oppose the decision, especially the Ticket Splitters who are against it by 80 percent.

Shrinking national monuments, along with other extreme positions such as reducing safety requirements for energy development on public lands, are part of the reason why outdoor voters give the Trump administration low approval ratings on handling public lands issues. President Trump’s public lands approval rating is under water with each outdoor voting group, including the more conservative leaning Hunters and Anglers group and Cable News Watchers group.

Combined, our Winning the West 2018 poll results and the groups that make up the emerging outdoor voting bloc give a clear direction to candidates looking to win elections in Mountain West states: respect the outdoor way of life, stand up for the protection of public lands, and reject extreme efforts to recklessly develop or shrink them.

In short, get to know the outdoor voters, and listen to them.

Stay tuned for more Winning the West updates in the coming weeks, including focus group results and an analysis of social media trend data from the last two years, looking at the conversations around public lands.

The Center for Western Priorities is available to provide briefings on the importance of a pro-public lands message to winning Western votes. Our polling is a useful resource to candidates and interested parties looking to connect with voters in the Mountain West.

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